My Royal Conversation

I had a conversation with an important royal personage this week, quite out of the blue, AND, dear readers, he spoke to me for quite some time.  I think I am finally in.  I’m one spindly paper invitation away from Prince Harry’s DiscoBalls Nightclub, Rum-Supping Disco Royal Wedding Rave-Up at Buck House on Friday evening.  Watch this space.

“It’s a big day for us tomorrow,” he said.

“Yes, your Royal Highness, it is.”  I was very surprised to be having this conversation , as La Bluebird is not usually beckoned into royal circles, because I don’t want to dampen their splendour as I am so much better dressed and fruitily glamorous than they are.  But there I was in the middle of a park, next to an ornamental fountain, chatting to the Royal Family’s biggest and most important person, about the upcoming celebrations.

“I need a good King.  It’s a very important time.”

“Yes, your Royal Highness, it certainly is.  How exciting!” I said, thinking about the half-eaten packet of Twiglets I’d left behind on the bench.  “Can I have a photo taken with you please?”

He was very obliging, and we stood at the side of the ornamental pond, chatting about America and what he thought the next episode would be in Anglo-American relations.

“We’re going to thrash the French out of there,” he said.   “Do enjoy the rest of your time – please feel free to walk around the parklands here.”

Then he wondered off towards a small child who threatened to drop bits of a 99 Flake onto his lovely red tights.

Tights?  is that the Royal outfit for Friday?  I hear you screeching, people.  I bet you are worrying about Prince Balding turning up to his right royal nuptials with a smile and some red tights.  SEXY.  And ballet shoes.  But, calm yourself, Britons, calm yourselves.  I need to adequately explain my collision with crowned heads on Monday.

I was in 1536.  Edward VI was about to born (although his Royal Kingliness did not know this) and Jane Seymour was about to go into confinement (I don’t mean the Dr Quinn medicine lady).  Henry VIII, resplendent in a codpiece of royal proportions and a rough, kingly ginger beard, like Prince Harry’s cheeky uncle, was meeting his public.  Most of his public had paid £15.95 for the privilege and were trying to have pictures taken with him.  In the courtyard, the Queen’s midwife was being quizzed on what the four humours are.

This was Hampton Court Palace on Monday.  This is, in fact, Hampton Court Palace, every day.  Visiting with family from the former colony known as USA, we were sucked into a series of bizarre royal role plays.  Some poor bastard actor spent the hottest Easter on record wandering around in doublet and hose and a hot hat with ostrich feathers sticking out of it like a right royal plonker.  His courtiers were no luckier; their outfits were heavy. black fur capes.  Occasionally, Henry VIII’s wife would arrive in the courtyard, screaming about her lady in waiting being a right slapper.  Henry would approve.  Bemused children in tracksuits looked on, accompanied by frazzled-looking parentals.  The actors repeated the same script on the hour, every hour, like some awful Tudor Groundhog Day.

Now, strictly speaking, Hampton Court Palace isn’t really in London.  Unlike North London, South London doesn’t seem to have any defined boundaries.  We simply are not sure whether London ends and Twickenham begins.   Ham?   Kingston?   Hampton?  Its all much of a southwesterly London muchness.  In addition, Hampton Court Palace is not easy to find.  The entrances aren’t signed properly, and I nearly drove into a private golf club, which I thought might be Hampton Court Palace as it looked a wee bit kingly.  Finally though, having got through a traffic-free South Circular and rippled over Kew, I arrived and his kingships lordly palace.   Quite a place it is, too.

I looked forward to the maze most of all.   I couldn’t wait to get into it.  However, once in, it served as a pretty appropriate metaphor for the royal family.  People love to get into it, and think the game will be flighty and flirty and hugely fun but they discover it isn’t half as glamorous or interesting as they had envisaged.  When they try to make the break for the border, they find the exit concealed, having been hidden away by sly courtiers.  Many false starts and dead ends have to be found before anybody gets out with their sanity and the family intact.  The clever use of hedgerows has rendered the common citizen powerless.  Not that King Henry could have fitted into this maze though, coz he was five feet wide, because he ate like five chickens a day or something.  Seriously.  He was even leering at my Twiglet packet.

The best guide for a palace is an eight year old child.  Thankfully I had temporarily acquired one that morning.  Eight year olds are the perfect age for the Hampton Court Palace Activity Book.  On the Palace tour, we searched for patterns in the ceiling that revealed passwords, we located the “eavesdroppers” – real models of people’s heads that peered out and over from sections of the ceiling down into the Great Hall, we counted the foodstuffs being prepared in the Tudor kitchens were some other poor actors had been roped in to turn a piece of meat cooking on a spit on the hottest day of the year, and paper mache slabs of meat sat on wooden sideboards.    In the royal apartments, I accidentally set off an alarm when leaning over a rope to take a snap of William III’s crapper, a bacteria friendly toilet with a red velvet cover seating.  Snazzy.  Hope Harry hasn’t found out about it.  The ‘partay’ to end all ‘partay’s at Buck House will be full of the Glosse Posse aiming their crowned heads at velvet-covered seats for a slash.  Now, that’s what I call the royal wee.

It was all very grand, the idea of 16th and 17th century Palace living.  I wonder how much of it has changed?  I cannot make a thorough comparison as I’m not allowed into the royal apartments, not since that time they found me in the middle of the Queen’s bedroom one night where I had shouted “Aha!  Queenie!”  and quite startled the old girl.  I got some sort of restraining order or something.  Halycon days.  I should imagine, though, that Buck House is equally laden with sumptuousness and coated in heraldic glory.  And Pippa Middleton.  Perhaps that is why the Prince Balding and Kate MiddleClass nuptials seem so unreal.  We are being transported into a patchwork quilt of constitutional monarchy past.  The state landau coach that will take the heavily protected couple away from Westminster Abbey and towards Buck House was made in 1902.  That’s even older than Prince Philip.  The pageantry and uniformed daftness is so anachronistic as to seem like watching toy soldiers marching across a child’s make believe world at playtime.  The 4.30am dress rehearsal, early yesterday morning, looked positively ghoulish, with officers angrily bossing people about in the lunatic half-light of an early London morning, with the glare of a 102 bus in the background and shiny faced boy sailors looking terrified in the foreground.   If the sailors are on shore in the landlocked SW1 area, exactly who is protecting the darn waves which Britannia is supposed to rule?  And what about the poor bastards who may have a nasty episode off the coast of Anglesey and have to deal with a reduced helicopter rescue service, as the King in Waiting is too busy getting hitched?  Selfish, I call it.

I am at a crossroads between monarchic heraldry and ribald republicanism.  I have been invited to a flag waving, sandwich munching, 1950s-esque street party and a republican lunch.  I know what the first would entail but what on earth happens at a republican lunch?  Presumably anything except coronation chicken is acceptable, for the menu.  But what exactly happens?  Do we toast the possibility of no Queen, no happy couple?  How can you toast something that doesn’t exist?  As a beef dinner involves eating beef, does a republican feast involve eating republicans?  Am I supposed to get cross about the royal wedding day?  And won’t that play havoc with my indigestion at lunch?  Has no one thought this through?

Hmm.  Clearly not. One thing is clear, though.  As the rest of us enjoy our day off and sit about watching the telly and putting bets on at William Hill about whether the Queen will wear a yellow hat and a ski mask, think of those poor sods at Hampton Court.  It’s another day for the actor who can’t get any other sort of job, and who has to dress up and pretend to be a Tudor FatBoy for the day.   Who, like the Prince of Wales and his son, is just padding around in his current role, waiting for the better job to make itself available.    While the 21st century ploughs on, the 16th century is alive and kicking in some northerly corner of Surrey.  Get yourself down to Hampton Court Palace for a right fun day out – but don’t lose your head!  haha.   Happy Royal Wedding Day.  Save me some cake.  I can have it when I get home from the republicans.

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Poo on my Clothes

Fear not, dear readers.  That is not a command.  After all, I don’t know you that well.  And I really think that sort of thing must be between mutually understanding adults of the grown-up variety.  Above tis a reference to the 3 part mini series called Filth, which was introduced by the History man of the hour, Dan Snow.  I’m not sure why they keep producing Dan Snow.  Perhaps they think he is posh totty, if you like your men with pointy noises, rower’s shoulders and a receding hairline.  Either way, we are clearly stuck with him.  And he is good – although on the episode of Filth dealing with the shit of London’s own medieval quagmires, not a story about the police force which I had expected, he appeared to be struggling with a heavy cold.

Either that or the noxious fumes of poop had blocked his sinuses.  For this was a show that reeked of squelches and faeces-filled bogs, that farted and shat it’s way into describing the ingredients of a common or garden 14th century London street (urine, animal entrails, peasants’ shoes, human poos).  Never have I been so grateful that we didn’t have smell-o-vision.  The ideal audience for Filth would have been a 12 year old, short-sighted boy whose idea of a good hobby is holding a live gerbil over a bunsen burner, and who luxuriates in the awfulness of the nastiness of poo.    Then why was it put on at 9pm at night?  Fools.   First of all, Dan put on his terribly smart “wellies” and marched up and down on a lot of poo as if his History PhD depended on it.  “That smell,” he boomed, as he approached a mound of the stuff, “is basically poo particles in the air attacking my nose!”.  Then he marched into Cross Nest Sewage Works looking as shocked and gentlemanly as possible.  “What is this place?!”  he laments, sounding close to tears, to Jill Sterry, a no-nonsense woman in the sewage work’s employ who has a countenance that suggests she has stared out many a shit in her time.

Dan investigated a pipe full of really horrible crap-related stuff.  “The last thing I want to do is spray it all over myself…..”  Indeed.  “Here it comes!  Like Mr Whippy!”  Well, Dan, I bet you’ve had dates like that before.  Anyway, it was more like Mr Shitty, as Dan excitedly filled up another jar with what appeared to be poo ectoplasm.  The scriptwriters chose an unfortunate choice of words when it was Dan’s turn to investigate poo-dealings, as he said the answers were “deep within the bowels of London’s Metropolitan Archive”.  After poo research (poosearch?)  he sits in a library and talked about a lady called Alice Wade.  I shudder to think of the sewage awfulness that came out of Alice Wade.  It must have beena disgusting and depraved thing, because D Snow had to put on latex white gloves like gynaecologists wear for a cervical sweep before he could pick up the piece of paper to read about it.  Apparently, Alice Wade “didn’t really want to pipe her waste into the streets.”  Oh Alice, cheers.  That’s big of you.  Anyway, the fate of Alice “The Crapper” Wade was nothing compared with feckless Richard , who, at some point in the 1370s, sat on his home-made latrine, only for it to collapse.  Richard “dropped into his own excrement and drowned”.  D Snow referred to this as an “unfortunate accident”.  No, DS.  An unfortunate accident is leaving your quiche in the oven for too long, or ordering polenta when one really wanted the cheesecake.  Dying by inhaling your own poo is nothing short of a medieval, 14th century toilet tragedy, my friend.

D Snow did do very well however.  Even when he had to decapitate a dead pig.  Not that that put him off, of course.  He is not faint hearted.  “I’ll never eat pork again…..” he said, “……in the same way.”  Blimey, ladies, he’s hardcore.  Anyone who can hold a warm, still-palpitating cluster of dead pig’s entrails in his hand and still only think of when he’s next going to eat the rest of the pig with a bit of sage and onion has a heroically strong constitution.   Even when a naked medieval bottom hoved into view and farted at the camera in a reconstruction of Ebbgate Lane – an enormous medieval latrine that now probably sits (sorry, squits) on the site of Whistler in Liverpool Street, or Pret A Manger at Tower Hill – D snow held his dignity together with the Cambridge tones of his voiceover.  These latrines were particularly badly planned, explained DS.  Although they “kept their own walls clean” an intrinsic part of the latrines design was shitting on nearby pedestrians.  The squalor and inability of London to contain itself was alarming.  Basically, I am surprised the city has not melted away, reduced into liquid nothingness by the volume of medieval sewage.  London was predominantly built on stone and wood and human crap.  Much of it may be under our feet now.  I thought my shoes smelt odd.Next I have to catch up on the Paris and New York episode, but London came first, as it always does in herewith bloggery.  I don’t mind if we see more of Dan Snow.  I am particularly fond of his double acts with his father, for those of you who remember my irate Blitz entry on this blog some time ago –  and as the powers that be at the BBC seem to have thrust him upon us as the Boffin of the Hour than I am pleased to welcome him into my living room.

The overwhelming sense I got from this programme was how civilized and clean and wonderful our modern lives in London truly are.  Every morning, the city of ours rolls out of beds, coughs up some city-sputum, and hails a new day.  By the time we poke our ungrateful noses over the top of the duvet, the well-oiled machine that is London has been at work for three or four hours, flushing through water pipes, warming up stations, refuelling tube trains, and cleaning our buses and workstations.  People like to have a bit of a moan about London – the uncivilized aspect of it, the fuel, the pestilence, the dirt. Veer away from them, my friends, for they are as full of shit as Alice “The Crapper” Wade.  When it comes to cleanliness, no city is better than us at clearing up shit at miraculous rates.  And if you don’t believe me, check out the steaming piles of horse droppings on the Mall on Royal Wedding Day, when London will be covered with bits of the Household Cavalry’s nervous bowels (and that’s just the riders).  I just hope the Duke of Edinburgh can contain himself.  Needless to say, by 8am on Saturday morning they’d have swept up all the Royal defecation they can find, and the Mall will gleam again, as rose-pink and fragrant as a baby’s bottom.  Perhaps we are so good at clearing up shits because we’ve had so much practice at doing it.

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Going on holiday by mistake


Withnail & I  has unfortunately, turned into a somewhat obnoxious cult.  I said cult.  It’s unfortunate when a sublime piece of work gets piggybacked by a cluster of self-conscious and squirmy students who delight in the brassy crassness of drinking a lot and reciting lines to each other in the university bar.  Perfect lines delivered by an actor can only wilt and fade beyond parody when repeated by nineteen year olds after six pints.   Many films are released into their biggest audience viewing at the cinema, and then viewings descend, as if on a graph year-by-year, decade-by-decade.  Withnail & I, in perversion, has done the opposite.  It opened with a whimper, and seemed to be banging away on DVD ever since, collecting up new fans with every passing year, and shows no signs of letting up. 

The film itself doesn’t open with a whimper, of course.  It can’t really, with Richard E Grant’s Withnail claiming in the first five minutes “Right you fucker.  I’m going to do the washing up.”  Bruce Robinson’s script of two, down-at-heel actors, high on desperate drinking, flailing in a decrepid flat and low on their luck, was written when Robinson himself was a desperately poor out-of-work actor, sharing a Camden house with fellow drunken out-of-work actors, in what he has called the most miserable time of his life.  At this stage, Robinson seems something of a hybrid, having trained as an actor but was filling his time writing to establish his authorial voice and develop characterisation.  The process of writing Withnail was what led him to the undeniable truth that he wasn’t meant to be an actor at all, and that writing was his true vocation.   Having originally started life as a novel, Withnail emerged into a screenplay and eventually received the production money to enable the film to be made after George Harrison read the script on a transatlantic flight.   The production was an anxiety-making one – the film resisted an attempted shut-down by production on its third day, Robinson had never directed a film before, and when the film needed an extra £30,000 to continue being made Robinson ploughed his own money back into it, thereby reducing his fee.  True to say, production companies are a bunch of neolithic arsewipes who can’t be trusted to buy toilet paper – but the film, by hell or high water, got made.   And then it sort of grew legs.

By the mid-1990s, about the time when the cringeing quoting game begin in pubs up and down England, no student video collection was complete without it.  Students are nobly devoted to the films that, again and again, resurface in the definitive student film canon.  When a film – Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs – enters the passionate student mindset, the posters can stay up on student walls for another 15 years after initial impact.  Images of Richard E Grant and Paul McGann festered on bedsit walls next to Betty Blue and Trainspotting as the appropriate student picture du jour by the time I became a drama student in the mid-1990s.   Withnail & I had all the elements that appealed to the young, the drunk, the gothic, the artistic, the thespian flamboyance, the surreal humour.  I lost amount of the number I times I heard “Of course he’s the fucking farmer!” and “Don’t threaten me with a dead fish” in my student years.  At drama school, of course, the Withnailian element was heightened to hysterical levels.  Most of the boys thought they were Withnail, or at least desperately wanted to be him.  With the shortsightedness of the vain young, they didn’t see him as a man with a disease, but a loveable old soak, a great debunker of myths and an inspiration for social posing.  The irony of this was that Withnail became a life guide rather than a film.  Some of them literally fulfilled Withnail’s indignant : “I’m a trained actor reduced to the states of a bum!… What do you want to go to the countryside for? I’m in a park and I’m practically dead.”  I shouldn’t think they’d find Withnail that funny any more.  The view is too close and it stings; the tragedy of unrealised professional hopes is only funny from a vantage point far removed from the world of drunken, unemployed actors. 

Nothing ever takes away from the strident unemployability of Withnail; his callousness, his attempts to make a virtue of snobbery, his mercenary pimping of his best friend – who he suggests to his rabidly homosexual Uncle Monty may well be a “toilet trader” -, his tenacious and mean self-preservation.  His only actorly audience is a couple of animals in London Zoo, who end up being the unwilling onlookers to his speech from Hamlet in the last scene.  We’re left with the impression that this is the only kind of performance he will ever give.  The character who Robinson based Withnail on never worked after he left drama school.

What it does capture, away from the urbane wit of Withnail and the bitterly funny anxiety of “I”, who has an undeservedly torrid time at the hands of his housemate, is the loneliness of the long distance actor.  Sitting about is what many actors have to do.  The world shapes itself by whether or not the audition will take place, if they’ll like you when it does, whether you have the right hair, the right eyes, whether the phone will ring and meanwhile, the life of the yong actor is marked by a disinclination to do anything else.  Because, as the Gods are against you (and they surely are if you’re “resting”) the minute you book a holiday or take a day job is the minute your theatrical destiny will realise itself and the National Theatre will come calling.    The lack of career structure, the absence of any ladder that could be climbed is, to most people, unimaginable.  This film captures the louche nothingness of sitting about on drugs that young actors seem particularly good at doing.  Whilst I am not negating the efforts of other young professionals at getting deliriously out of their heads, actors are student-y long after the rest of the world has stopped behaving like students.  At  30 years old, they can still be 19, sitting around in T-shirts in Hornsey building bongs and  – whilst their contemporaries are signing off mortgages, wearing trouser suits and turning up to meetings – the out-of-work actor has yet to work out what the drycleaners is for.  In Withnail & I our two leads are less than a year out of drama school, but Robinson knows it is very possible that Withnail will stay in the same festering, poverty-stricken, wine-addled state for the next decade.   Withnail is a actor of the can’t work, won’t work, variety, who won’t understudy anybody, thank you very much, because his self-worth is so exorbitantly high that he won’t do anything.  “I” on the other hand, the character assumed to be based on Robinson himself, ends the story by leaving to take a job in theatre in the provinces.   It humourously imparts the lifestyle of the kind of out of work actor who waits for the pubs to open so he can keep warm, whilst never trivialising it’s tragedy. 

The script is irresistibly good – who can resist Uncle Monty’s musings over the delights of a “firm young carrot” and his memories of a former male love, who he now imagines to be “wintering in Guildford, Vim under the sink and both bars on….”? The film serves to debunk the myth that a film needs a good plot because Withnail basically doesn’t have one.  Actors in Camden Town prepare to go to the country. They go.  They come back.   Nothing happens, but yet it does.   The film starts with two people fragmenting, one into vicious alcoholism and the other into marajauna-induced panic attacks that leave him grappling with the undiagnosed “matter” clogging up their communal sink.  Only in the last ten minutes does one of them possibly find a way out of the “matter” and make a bid for freedom.  The other will only fester back into it.   This is the tragic beauty of the film.  It is a masterpiece of dialogue – but why do people feel the need to belittle it by sitting and repeating the lines in that unfunny way?  And don’t get me started on the nuttiness of the Withnail drinking game, which has been rated by medical experts as “likely to be fatal”. 

Withnail is a superlative piece of work.  Just as there are more and more Elvis fans with every passing year since the King’s death, Withnail is breeding with fecundity.  In about 20 years the whole planet will be composed of people who love Withnail & I and I don’t doubt the world will be better for it.  Robinson has just written and directed his first film in 18 years (The Rum Diary) at Johnny Depp’s insistence, which will be released later this year.  I hope to be delighted by it.  But please, people, if you do like it, resist yourself from repeating the script.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Quiet Please

At Ronnie Scotts on Tuesday, the food was underdone and the band over-excited, particularly the drummer, a new chap I had not yet seen, who appeared to have ants in his pants.   I went to war with a rib eye steak for supper.  Unfortunately I ended up eating most the al dente mange tout during a quiet double base solo, which meant most of the room could hear me crunching, and I felt like it was a duet.  That noise was nothing though when compared to the woman who sat two tables in front of me and who chose to have a row with her husband mid-way through the second set.

Don’t ask me what I was doing there because I am not quite sure.  My days of having a semi-permanent table at my disposal are sort of over at Ronnies due to rather drastic management shifts a few years back, but I somehow ended up winning a competition for answering a question – or at least, Google answered it for me, the little darling – and then suddenly I was a competition winner and got two tickets.  It was rather brazen for a Tuesday night, but me and my Jazz Buddy are somehow always up for a bucket of Ronnie’s mojitos with a series of drum solo chasers.  So it was a short hop, skip and jump to musing over email whether we felt like going to Ronnie’s on a Tuesday to being congratulated by our waitress for breaking the record for the most mojitos ordered from a mid-week table for two.  I think we both overdosed on sugar before we had a chance to enjoy the intoxicated effects of the rum.   But what a heart-warming sight to see the place booked to the rafters on a Tuesday night on the eve of what the opposition benches would have us label Black Wednesday, and to see so many of the seats filled by the non-specific grey area between late middle aged and the elderly.  I lost count of the amount of sixty-somethings out for a spot of jazz and a bottle of Chablis, who seemed truly delighted with the display of chamber jazz on offer, and who were wowed by the xylophone player’s antics.   In the toilet, I breezed into a cluster of youngsters who were clearly dazzled by Jacqui Dankworth and who all thought they were SO not good at scat-singing.

Ronnie’s Mark II is a world away from Ronnie’s Mark I, which featured a carpet that was half gaffer tape and toilet facilities that hadn’t been updated since the blitz. The low-hanging brown lampshades had orange light bulbs and the kitchen was so close to the main floor that trumpet solos were interspersed by the sound of chefs hollering and plates being thrown into the dishwasher.  There was a bar area at the side of the club which is sorely missed, and was rooted out like a bad tooth in order to accommodate extra seating.  Ronnie’s Mark II has a smooth, high-quality finish where the formica, spit and gaffer tape used to be.  It’s actually a fairly expensive night out but, you know, someone has got to pay the exorbitant Westminster business rates.  It’s smoke-free, of course, and terribly smart.   The food has got better and the drinks are ridiculously varied and excellent.  It is, moreover, still about the music.  It’s the ideal place to cleanse your jazz palate and start afresh if you have been away from the scene for a while.   Failing that, it’s the perfect place to get drunk on a Tuesday whilst drifting off and listening to world class musicians.

It’s other people’s behaviour which is the curious thing.  Apart from the lady who had a sort of row with her husband in the middle of the music, most people were impeccably behaved – even the table of smartly coiffeured City boys in expensive tailoring, who looked like they might rip the place up a bit once they’d had the first bottle of Verve Cliquot, gazed up at the stage like small boys in awe of the talented, confident Sixth Formers on the stage in an end of term play.  Tomfoolery and general chattery is not tolerated at Ronnie Scotts.  The mobile phone is the enemy.  It’s the ENEMY I tell you!   It is the demon bete noire of live music.  Occasional, turquiose flashes of i-phone glitter under the table, but it’s strictly illegal.  I think they put you in some sort of jazz detention.  Make you listen to Ornette Coleman on a loop for 24 hours, or something, and then you are forced to have soprano saxophone lessons.  But the no talking rule was adhered to throughout and the evening left me enlivened, musically invigorated and restored, as Ronnie’s always does.

How odd then, that the next evening, at the theatre, no one person in the audience could refrain from coughing, chatting, whispering and generally behaving badly for more than five minutes at a stretch.   The play was the not-that-jolly-or-uplifting Ecstasy by Mike Leigh at the Hampstead Theatre, a strange, modern monolith that looms up over Swiss Cottage like an architect’s nightmare.  High on octane emotion, with most of the truly excellent cast a snotty, weeping mess by the end of the show, this was not a play that encouraged flippant behaviour.  But the constant coughing, shuffling, rings of i-phones that should have been switched off, and the chatting – particularly from the lady behind me who kept giggling and talking with her friend – was some of the worst I have ever heard.   Many people say that theatregoers don’t know how to be quiet anymore – that television has dulled our sense of ourselves in the theatre space and that we forget we are not looking at a screen.  We forget that the actors are in the same room – and we forget that they hear everything.  They can see you pick your nose, they know what you’re wearing, they can feel you shuffling and when you have some sort of bronchial attack of racking cough in the middle of their line they will take it personally.   Have we forgotten that there are 200 other theatregoers around us, who need to hear the play?   Not that I am entirely blameless on this one, kids – I mean we’ve all done it by accident.  I remember being in the theatre years ago in the pre i-pod era, when I still had a Discman.  I hadn’t remembered to turn it off and the next thing you know, The Cardigans were blaring out whilst Diana Rigg was trying to have a nervous breakdown on stage.  Well, blow me, if Zoe Wanamaker – who was sitting in front of me – started shooting me right evils and turning round and tutting.  But still, it was only the once.

But at least Zoe Wanamaker wasn’t wearing a large hat.  That would have put us evens, I suppose.  I would have been infringing her right to hear and she would have been infringing my right to see.  Until last night, I would have thought it simply astonishing that anyone would turn up to the theatre in an outlandish piece of head furniture, but strike me down with a feather, that’s exactly what happened.  But unlike an i-phone or a troublesome cough, you can’t claim it was an accident.  No one could leave the house without noticing that they are wearing something enormous on their heads.  “Oh Sorry, I forgot to turn my hat off” doesn’t wash.  “I thought I had my hat on silent but then it started vibrating” isn’t possible either.  No sooner had we taken our seats than a man in what can only be termed a resplendent piece of headwear came and sat directly in front of us.  It was in a eye-watering turquoise shade and it meant that the only way my friend would be able to see the production was to cut a square through his headwear and watch the play through it.  Perhaps he thought he was at Ascot.   He was such an alarming sight that my friend took a photograph forthwith and the two of us collapsed into giggles.  I alerted management to the outrageous of what was going on on the head in front of us and they rapidly moved us.  Have people  not only remembered that other people around them are not only trying to hear the play, but see it as well?

Perhaps television has made us think that not only are the actors in front of us in a little box and can’t hear, but that we are in fact sitting on our sofa in our front room and no one is actually behind us.  You can wear a top hat on your own sofa.  You can wear a policeman’s helmet if it is what turns you on, but, dear readers, have you ever tried watching a Mike Leigh play through a hat shaped like a grapefruit?  It was interesting that in Ronnie Scotts people were effortlessly behaved.  This is probably because – unless you fall asleep in front of the telly and suddenly wake up at 2.30am in front of Sky Arts – you don’t see jazz on television.  Ever.  It’s not allowed or something.  There’s some kind of Anti-Jazz clause in the BBC rules.   And I never thought I would be grateful for that.  But if it makes people shut up and take their hats off, I’m all for it.

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